We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again— the concept of sustainability (not to mention the word itself) can seem overwhelming and unapproachable on a good day. The pressure to “save the planet!!!” is too much for one pair of shoulders to bear- and they shouldn’t have to.
As a society, we have collectively and repeatedly been told that it’s up to the individual to stop climate change. If we just bring reusable bags to the grocery store, stop using plastic straws and drive hybrid cars, everything will be ok! Right?
The endless warnings about the climate crisis (with tips on how to stop it never far behind) are enough to cause anyone to suffer from eco-anxiety. What is eco-anxiety, you ask? It’s a general, constant fear about climate change and the uncertainty of the future, combined with the guilt and pressure we feel as individuals to stop it. Yes, there’s a name for that feeling you’ve been experiencing. Cooking for yourself is hard enough without remembering how to compost properly. You’re just trying to get your driver’s license, and trying to comprehend the consequences of gas-guzzling cars just seems too large to deal with right now. Trust me, I get it.
So does Journalist, Director and Climate Advocate Sophia Li. “The first thing I want people to understand about sustainability, is not to feel paralyzed by the problems and the pressures. I don’t think it’s fair for individuals and consumers to feel the entire pressure to change the climate. For the everyday person, it becomes overwhelming.” For many of us, the idea of ‘sustainability’ invokes images of Greta Thunberg, singlehandedly saving the Earth with speeches at the UN— an image that not only seems unrealistic but entirely unattainable. The reality, however, is a little different (though we obviously 100% stan Greta).
In order to approach climate change head-on, it would be helpful to finally get a grip on what ‘sustainability’ even means. According to Sophia, it’s not as complex as we might have been lead to believe. “Every action has a reaction at its most basic level. These actions can be regenerative, or degenerative. Every other part of nature is regenerative- their actions have a reaction that gives back to the Earth. However, currently, we are acting as degenerative mammals and we are taking, but not giving back to the Earth. Sustainability is getting back to being regenerative, how humans were always supposed to be. It’s not transactional, it’s interdependence. ”
Historically, humans have lived in harmony with Mother Nature. When we took from her, we gave back in other ways. It is the institutions and economic and political systems that we uphold in the present that have brought us to the other side of the spectrum in which we take, and we harm Mother Nature in return. Addressing climate change means addressing these very systems and institutions. “If you want to make a difference, it’s important to recognize that the majority of the problems that we’re encountering did not start on an individual level,” Sophia reminds us.
In some ways, that can almost seem even more overwhelming. Fine, you can remember to bring that reusable shopping bag, but how can you change political systems when you can’t even vote yet?
Fortunately, this is not an individual problem, it’s a collective responsibility. We’re in this together. While all of climate change doesn’t just depend on you, you can still instigate changes on a bigger scale. Sophia guides us through how to do so.
Industries respond to supply and demand. If consumers don’t demand a product, industries can’t make a profit, and will eventually be forced to stop supplying that product, explains Sophia.
“My favorite quote says that ‘every time we buy something, we cast a vote out for the type of world we want to live in.’” How can we make purchases that reflect our values? Maybe it’s buying produce from your local farmer’s market instead of the supermarket. Perhaps it’s buying clothes from your local boutique, instead of from large fast fashion retailers. None of us are perfect, but with each small choice we make, we are taking the power into our own hands, and forcing industries to make systematic changes .
The plastic straw ban is a great example. By refusing the straw in your daily Starbucks Latte, you helped make that happen, and now plastic straws are being banned on a state-wide and industry-wide level. This is a great reminder that the individual (you!) can help drive collective change.
If you are under 18 and unable to vote, it’s easy to feel powerless and as if you have no say in what is happening in the world around you. Sophia reminds us that “just because you can’t vote, you are still a global citizen, and you have the right to be heard.”
If you can’t vote, consider reaching out to your local representatives.
Your local representatives are ideally the true political figures that will listen to you and enact changes on a local level. They are championing the values you advocate for. When NY stopped collecting compost, Sophia reached out to Corey Johnson. “Not only because he is liberal and supports environmental conservation, but because he is the one that will listen and make changes on a local level.” Sign petitions, or call your local representatives directly! You have every right to stand up for what you believe on a political level.
Becoming a climate advocate at home can be incredibly challenging when you have to get your whole family on board and convince them of the importance on the topic. Sophia reminds us, however, that our parents and grandparents used to live a much more sustainable lifestyle without intending to!
Single-use plastic was only introduced in the ‘90s so, prior to that, our parents and grandparents reused bottles, and the milkman might have even been refilling their milk bottles! Our families were sustainable because they had to be, and they were resourceful. When we talk to our families about making changes now, it can be helpful to frame it as getting back to their roots!
Is there an activity that your family loves to do together? Lean into that, and brainstorm how sustainability can become an extension, suggests Sophia.
If your family loves to cook, then you love good quality food. Good quality food is typically best found locally grown at your nearby farmer’s market! Convince your family to go on a trip to the market to grab ingredients- it will be a fun family activity, and will enhance your meals at home that much more.
If your family loves to escape to the beach, suggest a beach clean-up! Challenge everyone to collect waste on the beach for 30 minutes, and whoever collects the most pieces of trash wins.
“There is always a way to bring sustainability back into what you love,” so start with that and bring your family in too.
Sustainability can seem incredibly overwhelming— we told you we’d say it again. We hope to help make it a little less so. “The more love you have for yourself, the more you realize that we are nature, and the more you realize how connected we all are, the more you’ll want to start taking care of the environment.” We can make a change with small, individual steps that lead to great, collective change. It’s not up to the individual, but it is a collective responsibility. Let’s work together to make a difference.